Blog by: Arianna Trapp, Blue Parks Science Intern
Featured Image: Fishing in Fiji by Tom Vierus
Most large, well-known marine protected areas (MPAs) are located in developed, financially stable countries where central governance and ample budgets for management are common. However, the top-down, centrally managed structure of many of these MPAs doesn’t work everywhere, particularly in places with a strong sense of local community ownership or stewardship. There may also be apprehension about the designation of MPAs in communities that rely on the ocean for both food and economic resources. In small coastal communities, locally managed marine areas (LMMAs) can be an effective means of conserving marine biodiversity while allowing the local community to thrive.
An LMMA is defined as “an area of nearshore waters and coastal resources that is largely or wholly managed at a local level by the coastal communities, land-owning groups, partner organizations, and/or collaborative government representatives who reside or are based in the immediate area.”[i] LMMAs can be more contextually and culturally appropriate, while just as effective when it comes to marine conservation and protection. Conservation measures are more likely to achieve their goals when local communities are engaged in them. With the participation of community members, MPAs often have higher rates of compliance and more management capacity. The success of LMMAs around the world, especially in the Southern Pacific, has revealed that marine protection is not “one size fits all,” and there are ways to both achieve biodiversity conservation and sustainably support the livelihoods of millions who rely on the ocean to survive. Each day, rising sea surface temperature brought on by climate change is affecting more natural habitats and unique ecosystems. Animal populations are declining and natural disasters are becoming more severe all over the world. The ocean is the lifeline for so many people, and climate change has put a strain on the communities that have been tied to the ocean for centuries. Coastal communities in Fiji, Kenya and the Philippines have employed LMMAs to enhance their relationships with the ocean.
Fiji draws on tribal tradition to manage 21st-century pressures
Fiji, a small, relatively remote nation of islands where fishing and aquaculture is a large portion of annual GDP, has, throughout recent decades, implemented an LMMA network covering over 10,000 km², including 22% of the inshore fishing areas.[ii] Marine management in Fiji, however, has been around much longer. Traditional marine management areas called “qoliqolis” have been implemented for hundreds of years, led by tribal chiefs and village councils.[iii] Qoliqolis are found throughout Fiji, but they differ from LMMAs in that they manage only fishing activities rather than the broader suite of human activities that many LMMAs manage. Common to both LMMAs and qoliqolis in Fiji are “tabu” areas: no-take zones that prohibit extractive activities of any kind.
The first Fijian LMMA was established in 1997 in the village of Ucunivanua on Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest island in response to the threats posed by climate change and overfishing. Since the early 1990s, Ucunivanua community members had noticed the effects of climate change. The rising ocean temperatures in the Pacific, combined with human activity, contributed to the declining health of Fiji’s ecosystems. Most noticeable was the increasing difficulty and time required to collect kaikoso clams, a community staple for both food and income. The declining clam population reflected a larger natural resource depletion that was becoming apparent throughout the country.[iv]
After workshops and the implementation of a management team, Ucunivanua LMMA was declared a tabu area for three years as a pilot project. The results were impressive, so the LMMA was made permanent in 2001. After seven years, the clams were more abundant than ever and the average income for the community skyrocketed. Because Ucunivanua was such a success, a network of LMMAs was established in Fiji. By 2009, the Fiji LMMA Network, Inc. included 250 LMMAs and involved hundreds of communities.[v]
In Kenya, the success of one community-managed reserve paves the way for dozens more
Kuruwitu, a community of about 30,000 people in southern Kenya, has relied on the ocean for centuries to provide food and a steady income.[vi] In the early 2000s, the people of Kuruwitu began to see decreasing sizes and numbers of fish in their waters. It was evident that overfishing, population growth, and the aquarium fish trade were all putting a strain on the biodiversity of the West Indian Ocean.[vii] Compounded with rising sea surface temperatures due to climate change, the once thriving ecosystem was experiencing a rapid decline.
With their livelihoods at stake, the community established the Kuruwitu Conservation and Welfare Association (KCWA) in 2003, to create a community-managed marine reserve that would both conserve marine biodiversity and secure their future.[viii] By 2006, community members agreed on boundaries for a 0.3 km2 no-take zone.[ix] Today, the restrictions remain, and the LMMA has allowed the coastal ecosystem to regenerate in more ways than one. Studies in the area have shown a 30% increase in coral cover and 200% increase in fish abundance.[x] The area is also an important breeding ground for native fish.
The ecosystem is being restored, while spillover from the protected areas is allowing fishers to increase their daily catch and improve the livelihoods of their community. The ecotourism industry has also benefited, creating many jobs for the area. Following the success in Kuruwitu, other communities in Kenya established LMMAs. There are now more than 30 communities along the Kenyan coast that have been involved in establishing LMMAs.[xi]
Communities and government work together to protect whole networks of life in the Philippines
Although the popularity of LMMAs has increased exponentially in recent years, places like the Philippines have followed a community-based marine conservation model since the 20th century. The Apo Island Marine Sanctuary was established in 1982, and throughout the 1980s and 1990s, much of Southeast Asia followed suit.[xii] Apo Island is a small island surrounded by coral reefs in the Central Visayas, Philippines. In 1982, an 0.11 km2 marine reserve was created covering 10% of the local coral reef area. Four years later, the legal framework for the LMMA, outlined by the community, local government, and Silliman University scientists, helped establish clear goals that included protecting the habitat and breeding fish while sustaining local fisheries.[xiii]
The Apo Island Marine Sanctuary is an example of an LMMA that has significant support and backing from the local government. Since 1993, it has been managed by the Apo Island Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), which consists of community members and government officials.[xiv] The primary impact of government involvement in the LMMA has been increased international recognition of the area. Of the LMMAs in the South Pacific, the Apo Island Marine Sanctuary is relatively well-studied, and the protections have proven successful. That success, in fact, was even found to “[deliver] a conservation benefit that rivals government-run [no-take zones] in the region, against a backdrop of severe biomass depletion, coastal poverty and human dependence on fishing.”[xv]
Similar to the pattern in both Fiji and Kenya, a network of LMMAs followed on the heels of the success seen in Apo Island Marine Sanctuary. In 2003, the Philippine LMMA Network, Inc. was created. It now includes 26 areas that are managed by over 100 communities on 3 of the major Philippine island groups.[xvi]
At this point, the question is not whether marine conservation is necessary, but by what means; we have to consider the best method of marine conservation in a given location. Locally managed marine areas can be very effective conservation efforts and are the best fit for some coastal communities. The ocean is a source of food and other resources for many small communities, and it is encouraging to see those communities fighting to sustain the ecosystems that they have relied on for centuries. Communities in Fiji, Kenya, and the Philippines are not alone in that fight, and the LMMA movement is spreading hope for marine biodiversity faster than ever in the South Pacific and all over the world.
[i] Govan, H. et al. (2008). Locally-Managed Marine Areas: A guide for practitioners. The Locally-Managed Marine Area Network. p. 2
[ii] Robertson et al. (2020). Locally managed marine areas: Implications for socio-economic impacts in Kadavu, Fiji. Marine Policy 117:103950.
[iii] United Nations Development Programme (2012) Fiji Locally-Managed Marine Area Network, Fiji. Equator Initiative Case Study Series. p. 4
[iv] United Nations Development Programme (2012) Fiji Locally-Managed Marine Area Network, Fiji. Equator Initiative Case Study Series. p. 4
[v] United Nations Development Programme (2012) Fiji Locally-Managed Marine Area Network, Fiji. Equator Initiative Case Study Series. p. 5
[vi] Centre for Public Impact (2021) Community Managed Marine Conservation: Kuruwitu, Kenya. Centre for Public Impact. Retrieved July 2021 from https://www.centreforpublicimpact.org/case-study/community-managed-marine-conservation-kuruwitu-kenya
[vii] United Nations Development Programme (2019) Kuruwitu Conservation and Welfare Association (KCWA), Kenya. Equator Initiative Case Study Series. p. 6
[viii] Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (2021) Kuruwitu: a success story for Locally Managed Marine Areas. BIOPAMA-Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management. Retrieved July 2021 from https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/6abe6f1a62c94f56970ac3cf6419f638
[ix] United Nations Development Programme (2019) Kuruwitu Conservation and Welfare Association (KCWA), Kenya. Equator Initiative Case Study Series. p. 7
[x] Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (2021) Kuruwitu: a success story for Locally Managed Marine Areas. BIOPAMA-Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management. Retrieved July 2021 from https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/6abe6f1a62c94f56970ac3cf6419f638
[xi] Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (2021) Kuruwitu: a success story for Locally Managed Marine Areas. BIOPAMA-Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management. Retrieved July 2021 from https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/6abe6f1a62c94f56970ac3cf6419f638
[xii] Vyawahare, M. (2020) Evidence that fish flourish in a community-managed marine area offers hope. Mongabay. Retrieved July 2021 from https://news.mongabay.com/2020/05/evidence-that-fish-flourish-in-a-community-managed-marine-area-offers-hope/
[xiii] Russ, G. & Alcala, A. (2003) A Practical Guide on How Monitoring can Support
Effective Management of MPAs. Australian Institute of Marine Science and the IUCN Marine Program. p. 22
[xiv] Russ, G. & Alcala, A. (2003) A Practical Guide on How Monitoring can Support
Effective Management of MPAs. Australian Institute of Marine Science and the IUCN Marine Program. p. 22
[xv] Vyawahare, M. (2020) Evidence that fish flourish in a community-managed marine area offers hope. Mongabay. Retrieved July 2021 from https://news.mongabay.com/2020/05/evidence-that-fish-flourish-in-a-community-managed-marine-area-offers-hope/
[xvi] The Locally-Managed Marine Area (LMMA) Network (2016). LMMA Philippines. LMMA Network. Retrieved July 2021 from https://lmmanetwork.org/who-we-are/country-networks/philippines/